On Oct. 15, 2023, a calf at a farm in Lac Qui Parle County was observed acting abnormally and showing signs of colic. An on-call veterinarian examined the calf that day and treated it with antimicrobial medication for a possible illness. The following day, the calf was foaming at the mouth and acting increasingly aggressive towards the other calf in its pen. The primary veterinarian suspected rabies and conducted a visual exam to avoid physical exposure. On Oct. 17, 2023, the calf was isolated due to worsening symptoms and euthanized later that day. A rabies test was conducted at the South Dakota State University Diagnostic Laboratory in Brookings. The calf was reported positive for the rabies virus on Oct. 18 and marks the third bovine to test positive in Minnesota in 2023.
The calf had not been previously vaccinated against rabies. It is unknown how the calf contracted the deadly virus; however, the farmer reports seeing a skunk on the property approximately two weeks prior. While all wild mammals can possibly become infected with rabies, skunks are one of the most frequently infected in Minnesota. Normally reclusive animals, rabid skunks are often seen in open areas and have been known to attack and bite livestock.
Both attending veterinarians are South Dakota residents. Their exposure risks and recommendations are being handled by the South Dakota Department of Health. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) determined that the owner of the calf had direct exposure to saliva and recommended post-exposure prophylaxis for protection against the virus. No other people involved had contact with saliva from the rabid calf.
The Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BAH) conducted an investigation with the producer and discussed risks of other animals on the farm. In addition to the pen mate calf, a vaccinated dog and a number of unvaccinated barn cats frequented the property. The cats tended to stay away from the cattle and were likely not exposed, but the dog often visited the cattle pens and may have been near the rabid calf. The BAH investigator recommended that the dog be given a rabies booster and observed in the home for 45 days. Rabies vaccines were recommended for the barn cats. Exposure from one calf to another is not typical, and the remaining calf was acting healthy at the time of the investigation, so a quarantine was not issued. Any change in behavior over the next six months would be reported to the producer’s veterinarian.
If you have questions about suspected or confirmed rabies exposure to domestic animals, call 651-201-6808.
If you have questions concerning rabies exposure in people, please contact the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-5414.
All dogs, cats, ferrets, and horses should be currently vaccinated against the rabies virus. In the event an animal is exposed or potentially exposed, pets should receive a rabies vaccination booster within 72 hours of exposure.